Artist honours John Muir in 1000-mile trek

Emma Herman-Smith finalises her walk from Dunbar to Florida. Picture: Complimentary
Emma Herman-Smith finalises her walk from Dunbar to Florida. Picture: Complimentary
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HE has inspired millions as the pioneer of the modern conservation movement and godfather of national parks.

Now eco-artist Emma Herman-Smith will retrace the route of renowned naturalist John Muir in a 1000-mile trek across the United States.

The Edinburgh sculptor – who has had residencies across the world – will trek on his “floral pilgrimage” from Jeffersonville, Indiana, to the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida, to mark the centenary of his death.

Inspired by Muir’s writings on the natural world, Emma decided she would emulate the Scot’s journey across the US.

The 47-year-old had been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer at the Western General when she starting reading Muir’s journals.

She said: “I thought ‘That’s it, I’m going to start walking in Scotland when I’m better’.

“Then I thought, ‘Why limit it to Scotland? I want to do the whole thing’. Now I’m daunted and excited at the same time. The challenge is doing something that appears so endless.

“With my art, I do quite a lot of casting and there’s something about replicating but each time it being a little different because of the process.

“I think that is what the walking will be like – every day I will be walking, but every day it will be a little different.”

Starting in Muir’s birthplace of Dunbar, East Lothian, Ms Herman-Smith will sail by cargo ship from Southampton to New York – this being the most environmentally friendly way to cross the Atlantic – then travel by train to Jeffersonville.

She expects the journey – which will take in parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia – to take three months, walking 15 miles a day.

Ms Herman-Smith, from Leith, hopes to rely on the generosity of people she meets, staying in people’s houses and coach-surfing along the way.

She will invite people to join her on the route which, like Muir’s, will primarily be on roads including the John Muir Highway in Kentucky.

Her journey will end a further 130 miles south of Muir in Sarasota, Florida, where she will then take part in the largest ever charity dragon boat race.

The international dragon boat festival will see 100 teams, manned by breast cancer survivors from across the world, gather for the weekend in October next year.

As founder of Port Edgar Dragons, Queensferry, Emma feels passionately about the benefits the sport can bring.

She said: “It’s a great way to finish the whole thing. Paddling has been found not only to give you upper body strength and help you recuperate after surgery, but to aid recovery from breast cancer and lymphoedema. This will be a great way of raising money and awareness.”

She will walk for the John Muir Trust and cancer dragon boat charity Paddlers for Life.

Adam Pinder, from the John Muir Trust, said he had never known anyone to attempt the feat.

He said: “This is the kind of event that our supporters will be extremely interested in because it is directly Muir-related and is an epic journey.

“Had Emma not decided to do this walk in what will be the centenary year of his death, we would have probably looked back in two or three years’ time and wondered why someone hadn’t.”


THE daunting schedule planned by Emma Herman-Smith will see her completing daily distances similar to those of a Roman soldier.

An ordinary day’s march for the Roman army would be 15-18 miles done in seven hours, or five of the Romans’ summer hours.

After marching all day, the army would pitch camp, which involved digging ditches, surrounding the camp with a fence, pitching their tents and digging latrines. A day of rest was customary after every three or four days of marches.

For an army of six legions, the baggage train alone would have been over 12 miles long and the leading troops could be pitching camp as the tail of the same army left their previous camp.